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tearing with spurs, the horses worked in a tapestry of his royal apartment, because they did not prance and gallop at his nod.
If a commendable, but immoderate fear of Pelagius' doctrine drove you into that of Augustine, the oracle of all the Dominicans, Thomists, Jansenists, and all other Roman Catholic predestinarians, you need not go so far beyond him as to recant all your sermons, because you mention perhaps three or four times, the freedom of our will, in the whole volume. "Let no one," says judicious Melancthon, "be offended at the words free will, (liberum arbitrium,) for St. Augustine himself uses it in many volumes, and that almost in every page, even to the surfeit of the reader."
The most ingenious Calvinist that ever wrote against free will is, I think, Mr. Edwards, of New-England. And his fine system turns upon a comparison by which it may be overturned, and the freedom of the will demonstrated.
The will, says he, (if I remember right,) is like an even balance which can never turn without a weight, and must necessarily turn with one. But whence comes the weight that necessarily turns it? From the understanding, answers he; the last dictate of the understanding necessarily turns the will. And is the understanding also necessarily determined? Yes, by the effect which the objects around us necessarily have upon us, and by the circumstances in which we necessarily find ourselves; so that from first to last, our tempers, words, and actions, necessarily follow each other, and the circumstances that give them birth, as the second, third, and fourth links of a chain follow the first, when it is drawn along. Hence the eternal, infallible, irresistible, universal concatenation of events, both in the moral and material world. This is, if I mistake not, the scheme of that great divine, and he spends no less than four hundred and fourteen large pages in trying to establish it.
I would just observe upon it, that it makes the First Cause or First Mover, the only free Agent in the world; all others being necessarily bound with the chain of his decrees, drawn along by the irresistible motion of his arm, or, which is the same, entangled in forcible circumstances unalterably fixed by his immutable counsel.
And yet, even upon this scheme, you needed not, sir, be so afraid of free will; for if the will be like an even balance, it is free in itself, though it is only with what I beg leave to call "a mechanical freedom;" for an even balance, you know, is free to turn either way.
But with respect to our ingenious author's assertion, that the will cannot turn without a weight, because an even balance cannot, I must consider it as a mere begging the question, if not as an absurdity. What is a balance but lifeless matter? And what is the will but the hiring, active soul, springing up in its willing capacity, and self-exerting, elf-determining power? O how tottering is the mighty fabric raised, I shall not say upon such a fine spun metaphysical speculation, but upon so weak a foundation as a comparison, which supposes that two things, so widely different as spirit and matter, a living soul and a lifeless balance, are exactly alike with reference to self determination! Just as if a spirit, made after the image of the living, free, and powerful God, was no more capable of determining itself, than a horizontal team supporting two equal copper bowls by six silken strings!
I am sorry, sir, to dissent from such a respectable divine as yourself; but, as I have no taste for new refinements, and cannot even conceive how far actions can be morally good or evil, any farther than our free will is concerned in them, I must follow the universal experience of mankind, and side with the author of the sermons against the author of the Narrative concerning the freedom of the will.
Nor is this freedom derogatory to free grace: for as it was free grace that gave an upright free will to Adam at his creation; so whenever his fallen children think or act aright, it is because their free will is mercifully prevented, touched, and so far rectified by free grace.
However, it must be granted, that many fashionable professors, and the large book of Mr. Edwards, are for you: but when you maintained the freedom of the will, Jesus Christ and the Gospel were on your side. To the end of the world this plain, peremptory assertion of our Lord, "I would and ye would not," will alone throw down the sophisms, and silence the objections of the most subtle philosophers against free will. When I consider what it implies, far from supposing that the will is a lifeless pair of scales, necessarily turned by the least weight, I see it is such a strong, self-determining power, that it can resist the effect of the most amazing weights; keep itself inflexible under all the warnings, threatenings, miracles, promises, entreaties, and tears of the Son of God; and remain obstinately unmoved under the strivings of his Holy Spirit. Yes: put in one scale the most stupendous weights, for instance, the hopes of heavenly joys, and the dread of hellish torments; and only the gaudy feather of honour, or the breaking bubble of worldly joy, in the other; if the will casts itself into the light scale, the feather or bubble will instantly preponderate. Nor is the power of the rectified will less wonderful; for though you should put all the kingdoms of the world and their glory in the one scale, and nothing but "the reproach of Christ" in the other; yet, if the will freely leap into the infamous scale, a crown of thorns easily outweighs a thousand golden crowns, and a devouring flame makes ten thousand thrones kick the beam.
Thus it appears the will can be persuaded, but never forced. You may bend it by moral suasions; but if you do this farther than it freely gives way, you break, you absolutely destroy it. A will forced, is no more a will; it is mere compulsion; freedom is not less essential to it than moral agency to man. Nor do I go, in these observations upon the freedom of the will, one step farther than honest John Bunyan, whom all the Calvinists so deservedly admire. In his "Holy War" he tells us, "There is but one Lord Will-be Will in the town of Man'ssoul" whether he serves Diabolus or Shaddai, he is Lord Will-be Will still, “a man of great strength, resolution, and courage, whom in his occasion no one can turn," if he does not freely turn, or yield to be turned.
I hope, sir, these hints upon the harmlessness of mysticism, and the important doctrine of our free agency, will convince you, and the purchasers of your sermons, that you have been too precipitate in "publicly recanting them in the face of the whole world," especially the ninth.
If you ask, why I particularly interest myself in behalf of that one discourse, I will let you into the mystery. At the first reading I liked
and adopted it: I cut it out of the volume in which it was bound, put it in my sermon case, and preached it in my church. The title of it is, you know, "Justification by Faith ;" and, among several striking things on the subject, you quote twice this excellent passage out of our homilies: "Justification by faith implies a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that by the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he is reconciled to the favour of God." O sir, why did you not except it in your recantation, both for the honour of our Church and your own?
Were I to print and disperse such an advertisement as this: " Eight years ago I preached in my church a sermon, entitled Justification by Faith, composed by the honourable and reverend Mr. Shirley, to convince Papists and Pharisees that we are accepted through the alone merits of Christ: but I see better now; I wish this sermon had been burned, and I publicly recant it in the face of the whole world;" how would the Popish priest of Madeley rejoice! And how will that of Loughrea triumph when he hears you have actually done it in your Narrative! What will your Protestant parishioners, to whom your book is dedicated, say, when the surprising news reaches Ireland? And what will the world think, when they see you warmly plead in August for justification by faith, as being" the foundation that must by all means be secured;" and publicly recant, in September, your own excellent sermon on "Justification by Faith?"
Indeed, sir, though I admire your candour in acknowledging there are some exceptionable passages in your discourses, and your humility in readily giving them up, I can no more approve of your readiness in making, than in insisting upon " formal recantations." We cannot be too careful in dealing in that kind of ware; and it is extremely dangerous to do it by wholesale; as by that mean we may give up, or seem to give up, "before the whole world," precious truths, delivered by Christ himself, and brought down to us in streams of the blood of martyrs.
Among some blunt expostulations that Mr. Wesley erased in my Fifth Letter, as being too severe, he kindly but unhappily struck out this: "Before you could with candour insist upon a recantation' of Mr. Wesley's Minutes, should you not have recanted yourself the passages of your own sermons where the same doctrines are maintained; and have sent your recantation through the land, together with your Circular Letter?" Had this been published, it might have convinced you of the unseasonableness of your "recantation." Thus, this second hasty step would have been prevented; and if I dwell so long upon it now, believe me, sir, it is chiefly to prevent a third.
And, now your sermons are recanted, is the Vindication of Mr. Wesley's Minutes invalidated? Not at all; for you have not yet recanted the Bath Hymnbook, nor can you ever get Mr. Henry, Mr. Williams, and a tribe of other anti-Crispian, though Calvinist divines, now in glory, to recant with you; much less the prophets, apostles, and Christ himself, on whose irrefragable testimony we chiefly rest our doctrine.
II. As I have pleaded out the cause of free will against bound will, or that of your sermons against your Narrative, and am insensibly come
to the Vindication, give me leave, sir, to speak a word also for that performance and the author of it.
You say he has "attempted a vindication of the Minutes;" but do not some people think he has likewise executed it? And have you proved he has not?
You reply, "There would be a great impropriety in my giving a full and particular answer to those letters, because the author did all he could to revoke them, and has given me ample satisfaction in his letters of submission." Indeed, sir, you quite mistook the nature of that "submission" it had absolutely no reference to the arguments of the Vindication; it only respected the polemic dress in which the vindicator had put them. You might have been convinced of it by this paragraph of his letter of submission: "I was going to preach when I had the news of your happy accommodation, and was no sooner out of church than I wrote to beg my Vindication might not appear in the dress in which I had put it. I did not then, nor do I yet, repent having written upon the Minutes; but, as matters are now, I am very sorry I did not write in a general manner, without taking notice of the Circular Letter, and mentioning your dear name." He begs, therefore, you will not consider his letter of submission as a reason for not giving "a full or particular answer" to his arguments. On the contrary, if you can prove they want solidity, a letter of thanks shall follow his "letter of submission:" if he is wrong, he sincerely desires to be set right.
You add, however, that he has "broken the Minutes into sentences and half sentences; and by refining upon each of the detached particles, has given a new turn to the whole." But he appeals to every impartial reader whether he has not, like a candid man, first considered them all together, and then every one asunder. He begs to be informed, whether an artist can better inquire into the goodness of a watch, than by making first his observations on the whole movement in general, and then by taking it to pieces, that he may examine every part with greater attention. And he desires you would show, whether what you are pleased to call "a new turn," is not preferable to the heretical turn some persons give them; and whether it is not equally, if not better adapted to the literal meaning of the words, as well as more agreeable to the Antinomian state of the Church, the general tenor of the propositions, and the system of doctrine maintained by Mr. Wesley for near forty years?
The vindicator objects likewise to your asserting, (page 21,). that "when he first saw the Minutes, he expressed to Lady Huntingdon his abhorrence of them." Had you said SURPRISE, the expression would have been strictly just; but that of abhorrence is far too strong. Her ladyship, who testified her detestation of them in the strongest terms, might easily mistake his abhorrence of the sense fixed upon the Minutes, for an abhorrence of the Minutes themselves; but she may recollect, that, far from ever granting they had that sense, he said,again and again, even in their first. conversation upon them, "Certainly, my lady, Mr. Wesley can mean no such thing: he will explain himself."
But supposing he had a first been so far influenced by the jealous fears of Lady Huntingdon, as to express as great an abhorrence of the Minutes as the mistaken disciples did of the person of our Lord, when
they took him for an apparition, and "cried out for fear;" would this have excused either him or you, sir, for resolutely continuing in a mistake, in the midst of a variety of means and calls to escape from it? And if the vindicator, before he had weighed the Minutes in the balance of the sanctuary, had even taken his pen, and condemned them as dangerously legal, what could you fairly have concluded from it, but that he was not partial to Mr. Wesley, and had also "leaned so much toward Calvinism," as not instantly to discover, and "rejoice in the truth?”
In your last page you take your friendly leave of the vindicator, by saying, you "desire in love to cast a veil over all apparent mistakes of his judgment on this occasion;" but as he is not conscious of " all these apparent mistakes," he begs you would in love take off" the veil" you have cast upon them, that he may see, and rectify at least those which are capital.
III. And that you may not hastily conclude he was "mistaken” in his Vindication of that article that touches upon merit, he embraces this opportunity of presenting you with another quotation from the JOHN WESLEY of the last century, he means Mr. BAXTER, the most judicious divine, as well as the greatest, most useful, and most laborious preacher of his age.
In his "Catholic Theology," answering the objections of an Antinomian, he says: "Merit is a word, I perceive, you are against; you may therefore choose any other of the same signification, and we will forbear this rather than offend you. But yet tell me, (1.) What, if the words aos and ağıa were translated deserving and merit, would it not be as true a translation as worthy and worthiness, when it is the same thing that is meant? (2.) Do not all the ancient teachers of the Churches, since the apostles, particularly apply the names ağa and meritum to believers? And if you persuade men that all these teachers were Papists, will you not persuade most that believe you to be Papists too? (3.) Are not reward, and merit or desert, relative words, as punishment and guilt, master and servant, husband and wife? And is there any reward. which is not meriti præmium, “the reward of some merit?" Again:
Is it not the second article of our faith, and next to believing there is a God,' that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him?” When you thus extirpate faith and godliness, on pretence of crying down merit, you see what overdoing tends to. And indeed by the same reason that men deny a reward to duty, (the faultiness being pardoned: through Christ,) they would infer there is no punishment for sin; for if God will not do good to the righteous, neither will he do evil to the wicked; he becomes like the god of Epicurus, he does not trouble himself about us, nor about the merit or demerit of our actions. But David knew better: The Lord,' says he, plenteously rewardeth the proud doers; and verily there is a reward for the righteous, for there is a God that judgeth the earth;' that sees matter of praise or dispraise, rewardableness or worthiness of punishment, in all the actions of men." This is, sir, all Mr. Baxter and Mr. Wesley mean by merit or demerit; and if the vindicator be wrong in thinking they are both in the right, please to remove the veil" that conceals his "mistake."
IV. As one of his correspondents, desires him to explain himself a little more upon the article of the Minutes which respects undervaluing.